SALT LAKE CITY (BVM) — Things happen when you don’t expect them. One day you are living your life, and the other you are lost.
That’s what happened to the world in 2020 when the pandemic started. And while it seems we are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, a lot of people are no longer here, or they have had to deal with what this illness brought.
Everybody is different and each body reacts differently. In swimming, your body plays a huge role in order to go faster, as well as your mind.
Born and raised in Tring, England, junior Abbie Hurst, breaststroker for the University of Utah swim and dive team, contracted coronavirus for the first time in November 2020.
“I was asymptomatic and felt completely fine that I didn’t even know I had it until the whole team was tested to be safe,” she said.
Her roommates and Abbie had to be isolated for two weeks but since they were all positive, they could be around each other. That time of the year, most of the people on the team got covid so practice was shut down for a month. Knowing that they were all on the same boat was what kept them sane.
After her first bout with covid, she had an echo, EKG and blood taken to make sure she was clear and OK to go back. The results came back fine, initially.
“When I first came back to swim, I had a lot of chest pain anytime my heart rate would increase,” she said.
Going back to the pool from covid led to multiple and severe consequences, where she could not practice because of her shortage of breath and dizziness.
In the beginning, since swimming is a sport where you have to do double practices a day, constantly push yourself in the water and in the weight room, doctors had more tests done on her to try to understand what was going on.
She went on different medications to try to stop the dizziness and the intercostal muscle inflammation she had from covid, but they made her so dizzy that she couldn’t even move. So her brain tried to compensate somehow.
“I got extremely dizzy whenever I stood up, walked anywhere, and tried to swim. I was then diagnosed with PPPD which is a different dizziness syndrome and I continued rehab for that while my chest pain was still bad,” Hurst said.
Once off the medications, her brain couldn’t handle the change again.
After a year-and-a-half, everything started improving by trying different medications and steroids.
Unfortunately, coronavirus and different variants didn’t get any better through 2021 and so Abbie got Covid again in January 2022 when all the chest pain and dizziness came up again and aggressively.
“Nothing really went right, I was in and out of the hospital and ER a lot,” she said.
And again, when talking about how covid affected her performances, she added that the impact was negatively huge and that she “couldn’t swim more than 25 yards at a time without nearly passing out and I couldn’t lift any weights due to my dizziness.”
“I had to adapt in the weight room and do every exercise lying down which limited what I could do a lot,” she said.
You can get lucky and not experience any symptoms, but you never know how it can mess you up next time. If you are a normal person, you might not feel it as much as an athlete, or a swimmer, where your body is the machine you need in order to push and swim fast.
You can get lucky and your symptoms are light, but you never know what can come next, or how long it is going to take you to recover from it.
You can get lucky and your body is one of those that recover from it, and you get back to normal.
But Hurst never got that normal back. Her body changed as well as your mind.
Covid didn’t just affect her physically, but her mental health.
“I got really bad anxiety and would spiral into panic attacks. I had times when I would have three panic attacks in a day and some were even on the pool deck. I went on medications for it,” she said.
It affects your whole life and Abbie started to feel distant from everybody and very lonely.
“Being far away from my family was so hard as they couldn’t be there to help me through all of my issues. With swimming, I barely saw my friends due to barely practicing with them, always being at the doctor’s and it made me feel more lonely,” she said.
Besides all the struggle and everything being unknown, Hurst tried to keep her schedule and focus on classes even if her physical and mental health weren’t in the right place.
It takes a lot of courage and effort to keep it up, and this is what Hurst did. She said she has grown a lot as a person after all that.
“I had to do a lot of work on myself and come to terms with what happened to me.”
Covid brought her the hardest tasks and the only thing she could do was to change her perspective of things and see an opportunity to better herself.
She thanked her family and boyfriend for helping her through this. She also got the help she needed by talking to therapists. She felt super supported also by the University of Utah, every coach and the staff.
Hurst learned a lot from this experience with Covid, this “beast” that affected a lot of people in the world of sport.
“The only thing which kept me going is that there is an end to it. Whether that end is coming back to full fitness and being able to race again, or if it is medically retiring and feeling free. The whole process is extremely hard and to keep pushing every day when you can’t see an endpoint is worse. You just have to know that there is an end and it will all be worth it. You just have to think about everyone you’re doing it for and the reasons why you’re doing it have to be worth it.”